Pain relief products have historically been restrained by an emphasis on effective functionality, creating ubiquity across the OTC category. Dominant players share a repetitive set of visual and linguistic cues – metallic shields and bullseye targets; glowing white flashes; and references to ‘extra strength’ and ‘targeted relief’ – which together frame the concept of ‘pain’ as an enemy to be aggressively attacked. However, there is a growing proximity between wellness trends and pharmaceutical concern, with an increased understanding of the body as a holistic, interconnected ecosystem. These drivers are shifting narratives of health away from surface level fixes towards deep-rooted, profound care. How is this change brought to life across emergent OTC pain relief brands?


Clean Simplicity

Emergent pain relief offerings are moving away from visually cluttered packs with saturated colours in favour of minimalism. Genexa, “the first clean medicine company”, uses white pack backgrounds to create negative space and listing things it is “made without” – emphasising absence and removal. This is dialled up by sans-serif fonts and simple line drawings, as well as variant names claiming to ‘reduce’ pain rather than eradicate it. Altogether, the brand communicates a modest and simple approach to efficient pain relief which is clearer to understand and believe in.

Proactive Enhancement

Similarly, HAVN Life’s health supplement range features short bottles with screw lids, akin to traditional prescription medication formats, maintaining associations with trusted clinical expertise. However, highlights of gradiented tertiary colours on pack – like pale orange and pastel green – soften this association, communicating less harsh and more subtle, complex care. This is also alongside references to ‘life’ in the brand name paired with variant names such as ‘Reishi Recharge’ and references to ‘balance’, ‘support’ and ‘immunity’ – coding an emphasis on proactively optimising bodily wellbeing. These cues together push the frame of pain relief beyond the clinically aggressive and into a space where restful, gentle care is delivered in harmony with the body.

A good place to start…


Approachable Expertise

The pain relief category is reimagining clinical cues that create a sense of top-down distance by using medical icons and language in refreshed ways. “Plant-based” and “lab-tested” topical lotion brand Dr Milo evokes professional aid through its name, claims and traditional ointment-tube format. However, use of rounded, lowercase lettering mitigates the distanced formality of the ‘Dr’ abbreviation in favour of informal ease, paired with vibrantly colourful, layered wave designs across the pack – together injecting the sense of medical authority with uplifting joy. Ultimately, a focus on the joy of relief over the seriousness of pain makes an expert-approved product appealing and reassuring to engage with.


Empowered Empathy 

Pushing the notion of hope a step further into community action, brands like Betr Remedies code compassionate care as central to delivering effective pain relief. The shortened spelling of the word ‘better’ and emoji-style heart shape created from the letter ‘B’ crafts a sense of iconicity around the meaning of ‘better’. Whilst framing pain relief as improving how someone feels rather than attacking pain itself with targeted aggression, it is also core to the brand’s ‘medicine on a mission’ claim. Since a portion of every Betr product sale is used to fund the donation of unused medication to a charitable pharmacy, the ‘get betr, give betr’ tagline is repeated across comms to emphasise this sense of powerful, reciprocal action. This equitable brand heart which champions ‘better’ access to medicine for all, paired with the use of brightly coloured pack designs, moves pain relief away from alarming high-shine red and blue colourways to communicate an inspiring optimism with a collectivist purpose.

A good place to start…

3 key takeouts for brands

  1. For Subtle Efficiency, as seen with Metode, consider desaturating cluttered on-pack visuals for a cleaner aesthetic and using language of gentle care (e.g. ‘supports the body’ instead of ‘fights pain’).
  2. For Positive Action, as seen with Midol, incorporate bright flashes of colour and visuals of people feeling better to inject hope into an otherwise detached category, paired with accessible language (e.g. ‘better for you’) which invites users to take empowered control of their own pain management.
  3. Overall, consider reframing concepts of pain relief to move away from aggressive surface level, quick fixes and instead adopt narratives of holistic, ongoing and deep-rooted care.

Lailah Choudhry, Senior Semiotician

Care about pain relief?: How pain relief packaging can be more culturally relevant & distinctive